The Beggars Opera is one of the last examples of the once thriving genre of satirical ballad opera. It is a tale that focuses on the life of the poor. The opera is set in the underworld of London, It specifically focuses on a gang of highwaymen and a gang of Prostitutes who all work for the same man, Peachum.

Peachum is the wealthiest character in the opera. He controls the lives of the poor, when they are making him money they survive, as soon as they become useless he turns them into the law. Each way he makes money.

Previous to the opera’s beginning, Peachum’s daughter Polly has married one of the highwaymen; Macheath. This causes arguments within the family, which leads to Mr and Mrs Peachum plotting to turn in Macheath. This moment is what prompts the rest of the opera. We see Macheath behind bars, where the sailors daughter; Lucy, interacts with him.  We discover they were ex- lovers which then creates tension between Polly and Lucy. Lucy has access to the keys to Macheath’s cell, and although she hates him for ruining her and not marrying her, she lets him go. He is caught again and thrown back into jail.

What Is also interesting about this play is that it is introduced by 2 characters; The beggar and The Player. These characters are only seen in the first and penultimate scene. The last time they are seen is after the play has finished, which sees Macheath go to the gallows. They discuss this scene and then revise it to a happier ending. I think that these two characters make the play more interesting, but also easier to watch.



This term our focus is 18th Century theatre. We have been given the choice between two plays from the era to design for. The designs will be for the RSC’s Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

The two plays we have been given are ‘The Recruiting Officer’ by George Farquhar (1706) and ‘The Beggars Opera’ By John Gay (1728). Both the plays explore ideas of class however both are very different.

The play I have decided to focus on is ‘The Beggars Opera’, this is because I think the play is the more interesting of the two and so has more to play with. In reading the play a key theme of rebellion stands out to me, and so has led me to consider trying to incorporate the 1970s subculture of the Punk movement into my design scheme. I think that this could give the show an edge and also make it more relatable to modern culture.


Hogarth’s Beggars Opera etching



For when the audience walk into the space, I want the set to be contained within the screens. That way the show is not given away straight away.

Opening Reveal.jpg


The screens will open out to reveal Franvera in her normal messy room. A hint of medical still remains due to the screens and the bed. All of her belongings, that will soon become the characters costumes, are strewn on the floor alongside her drawings.



For the party scene, the cast will come on and put up the bunting. The table will be wheeled into the space with glasses on it. This is the moment the red shoes are handed to Franvera for the first time. The bunting could also be used as a dancing ribbon.



The bed will be moved into the centre of the space. This is the scene where the soldier arrives in Franvera’s house and is attempting to force her out from under the bed.



To create the forest in a more lateral way I want the bunting to be pulled around into shapes that the actors can crawl and step through. I want them to almost become branches. I also like the idea that the screens could be wheeled around the space to form pathways.



The doctor is the only character that is not a part of Franvera’s imagination. She is the only real person in the play other than Franvera herself. For this reason I wanted to make her really different, this is why I chose to not physically include her. I want the doctor to be created through shadow puppetry and sound.



A key image in this play is that of the edgeless room. To create this image I want to utilise the screens. Use them as boundaries that keep getting broken. I like the idea of the boots pushing through a lycra type material. Also I want people to be climbing through.



This scene also takes part in the edgeless room. Franvera is drawing her little pictures, and they come to life, they become massive to almost form a wall. I thought this was another good opportunity to play with shadow puppetry again.



Within the play Franvera draws the refugee camp with ‘the lines of washing blowing in the air’ this led me to consider having the cast hang out some washing on the bunting lines for this scene.



The last scene sees Franvera shot by Red Beard. She leaves the stage by walking into a beam of light, heaven. For this project there is no way to get LX, so I thought I could attempt to create this with the screens and some back lighting.



To create my model for this projects set design, I was able to try a lot of new techniques. I tried soldering, laser cutting, using the spray booth etc. I really enjoyed attempting these precesses, despite the stress involved when things went wrong.

To create the miniature hospital bed I bent copper wire into the correct shapes and soldered all the parts together. This was such a delicate process, and a time consuming one. However difficult I found this technique, I managed to create a bed that was true to real life.

To create the hospital privacy screens I attempted many different processes. These were the most difficult aspect to build. I tried soldering, using electrical wires, filing foam board, cutting card to no avail. In the end I decided to try laser cutting to create the shapes, and then join them together using wire.